When Majapahit conquered Bali in 1343 there were some Balinese who did not accept this change of rule, and therefore built their own villages in remote areas. The descendants of these people are today known as Bali Aga or Bali Mula, meaning “the original Balinese”. They still live in villages like Tenganan in East Bali or Trunyan at the shores of the Batur lake.
Many of the old traditions are still maintained, and it is still possible to see their unique ceremonies and dance performances. The Tenganan people are convinced they are descendants of the gods. Even if the Bali Aga people today are Hindus they still practice a religion which is partly a heritage from pre-Hindu times, with obvious Polynesian characteristics.
The holy “Usana Bali” text tells the Bali Aga to take care of this land, to honor the descendants of their creator; Batara Indra. This can explain why they still hang on to the old ways of life, even if modern symbols like television, telephone and motorbikes have entered the village. Prior to the Indonesian liberation Tenganan was surrounded by a high wall, still today you have to pass through a gate to enter. Land and common property belong to the entire village community.
The rice fields are usually leased to the neighboring villages for the price of half the harvest. In that way the Tenganan people can concentrate about more artistic pursuits like weaving, dance, music and religious ceremonies. Some do also own business in nearby Candidasa, and the people here is said to be among the richest on Bali.
More than 100 families today live in the village, under strict laws. Until recently it was not allowed to marry anyone from outside the village without moving away from here. Because of this there has not been any growth in the population. The village counsel, in close cooperation with the gods, decided that the newcomer could undergo a mock cremation ritual from which he or she is brought back as a Tenganian, and so be allowed to live in the village.
The village has a characteristic architecture, and cover a rectangular area of about 250 by 500 meters. The buildings are mainly made of stone and thatched with straw, many has the shape of a longhouse. Tenganan do resemble primitive villages on Nias and Sumba. Wide streets cut through the village, between the houses there are narrow paths. Here is of course a temple, Pura Jero, on a hilltop at the back of the village. Around Tenganan there are some smaller versions of this village.
Tenganan is open for visitors who come here to look and buy souvenirs. It is known for the unique “double ikat” produced here, called “Kamben Geringsing” (“flaming cloths”). Kamben Geringsing is woven with a complicated, traditional technique, and is used only for ceremonial purposes. On Bali this is a sacred textile; a protection against evil spirits and illness.
Because it is not worked on continuously and because the coloring process is so involved, it can take up to seven years to complete a fine piece of geringsing. These pieces are generally only sold upon the death of the owner. The ones sold to tourists are unfortunately of much simpler quality, but is still a popular souvenir. You can watch the production in one of the few houses where this old craft is still known.
Other products you can by here are the so called Lontar books, made from the leaves of the Lontar palm. The books contain artistic drawings and poems from Hindu epics, it can take a month to produce one book with only five pages.
Tenganan is located not far from the main road between Semarapura and Amlapura, before Candidasa there is a sign, turn left and drive about 3 km inland. The closest place to stay is Candidasa, five km away.